Review by Dustin Putman
1½ stars out of 4
Movies about con-artists and the heists they attempt to pull off are
a dime a dozen, so overexposed it takes great skill and imagination
to make one of these things worth sitting through. Despite not being
a fan of 2001's similar "The Score" and even more similar "Heist,"
where, once again, the tired conventions of the genre reared their
ugly heads, at least they brought occasional suspense to the table.
As cliched as most heist sequences are, if they are edited and performed
just right, and the director under the helm knows what he or she is
doing, then tension can be milked for all it's worth.
"Confidence," directed by James Foley (1999's "The Corrupter") and
written by Doug Jung as if they were David Mamet's less-talented brothers,
plays its con games out like an instruction manual that, for all its
big words and fancy lettering, isn't very informative and far from
arresting. Without the brief stylish interludes that pop up every
now and again, the film is a tedious and twisting slog that, by the
end, closes its fist on thin air. There is not a moment of true depth--character,
narrative, or otherwise--in a single frame of this 98-minute waste of time.
Jake Vig (Edward Burns) is a slick and sneaky con man who, at the
beginning, has found himself in hot water: he is being held at gunpoint
by a mystery man named Travis (Morris Chestnut). Enter the elongated
flashback motif, as Jake explains how he has found himself in this
dire situation. The head honcho of a scam group that includes young
player Miles (Brian Van Holt), wise guy Gordo (Paul Giamatti), and
the undervalued Big Al (Louis Lombardi), Jake makes the mistake of
choosing a bad mark that leaves Big Al dead and their $150,000 take
belonging to the underground crime boss known as King (Dustin Hoffman).
To make amends and pay their debt, King picks a new mark for Jake
and the gang--bank owner Morgan Price (Robert Forster), worth $5 million
in cold hard cash. Aiding in the heist is Lupus (Franky G.), one of
King's men, and sultry pickpocket Lily (Rachel Weisz), whom Jake is
uncontrollably smitten with. Meanwhile, possibly crooked federal agent
Gunthar Butan (Andy Garcia) is hot on their trail.
Continuing with the similes, "Confidence" is like a factory conveyer
belt, and the viewer is put in the position of being the tired employee
who must see the same thing go past them again and again and again.
Whatever fun is to be had in a heist caper comes from one of two sources:
the unpredictable skewering of expectations, or the involved and exciting
depiction of the crime itself. "Confidence" does nothing to live up
to the former trait, and the latter--for all of its twists and turns--is
strictly by-the-numbers, unable to even once ratchet up a sense of nervous fun.
Had the characters been worth caring about, sympathetic or at least
rudimentarily developed, then the climactic proceedings would have
given off the vital feeling that something was at stake. Ultimately,
the screenwriting creations posing as real people are vaguely drawn
types. Jake is the leader, the most talented con man who, nonetheless,
knows when enough is enough and things are getting too risky. Lily
is the stock sexy female role, there to look innocent and then guilty,
and then innocent again. Edward Burns (2002's "Life or Something Like
It") and Rachel Weisz (2002's "About a Boy") fit well into these roles,
but are unchallenged by the material. The rest of the gang are nearly
interchangeable. Only King, played with deliciously threatening and
"hypersensitive" energy by Dustin Hoffman (2002's "Moonlight Mile"),
has any sort of creative nuances.
There are plot developments in the conclusion that are unforeseen,
to be sure, but they are equally unsurprising. The characters flip-flop
sides so much in the last fifteen minutes that viewers may get whiplash,
but aside from possible physical injury, they likely won't care one
way or the other. "Confidence" wants to be hip, wants to be sexy,
and wants to be wickedly tricky, but it is all for nothing. There
is a vacuous, dull-witted black hole at the center of this film's
every move, and victim sucked into it are the unlucky viewers.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman